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How to take control of your performance review and get the cash you deserve

Tips to help you navigate the performance review

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Wytze De Haan
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Wytze De Haan

Founder, The HatchetWytze writes weekly career advice for employees of fast-growing startups and scale-ups on topics like how to negotiate a better salary, convincing clients to work with you, or how to be a great manage… (show all) Wytze writes weekly career advice for employees of fast-growing startups and scale-ups on topics like how to negotiate a better salary, convincing clients to work with you, or how to be a great manager for your team. Prior to founding the Hatchet, he spent 9 years working as Director of Events for TNW.

The sun always rises in the east, the only certain thing in life is paying taxes, and people don’t always get the salary raise they deserve. I’d like to help you with changing that last part.

Performance reviews matter

How you structure your performance review has a direct influence on your ability to get a potential salary raise. Generally speaking, companies will provide anywhere between a 1-10% annual raise depending on how well you’ve performed that particular year. That makes your review one very important hour. 

To put that into context: if you were to pick up an extra 3% salary increase on a median Dutch salary, you’re talking about an extra €1100 per year in direct gross income, increased employer contributions to your pension, and next year’s salary raise in percentages will equal a higher number in absolute euros. All I’m trying to point out is that it’s worth investing some effort into that one conversation.

The advice I’m about to share is based on two assumptions:

  • You are indeed great at what you do and a top-performer
  • You’re not moving into a new job/position — if you’ve been promoted or taken on materially different responsibilities you shouldn’t settle for a regular raise

#1 – Don’t accept a mediocre review

We’ve probably all had a manager in our life that turned reviews into awkward monologues filled with vague statements about your performance.

Just because your manager has difficulty conducting a structured review shouldn’t withhold you from adding a bit of structure to it yourself. There are two things I recommend making sure take place as part of your review process:

  • Ask your manager to provide concrete examples when feedback is given. 
  • Document the feedback and the outcome of the review conversation somewhere.

Poor managers have a tendency to prepare for reviews in the 15-minutes prior to the meeting, which means they’re likely to provide feedback based on recent events only, or worse, provide feedback based on their own subjective feelings.

Asking for concrete examples will help separate the feedback that has merit from the random and unsubstantiated assumptions, which will help you:

  1. Understand better what to actually improve about your performance
  2. Nudge the goal-setting part of your conversation in the direction of the improvement points that have clear examples of what to change

It doesn’t really matter where the review is documented, just as long as it is. Part of the strategy is referring back to the goals in your next review which is why it’s imperative they were documented and not verbal commitments only.

#2 – Set clear goals for the next 12 months

Here’s the key to the game I want you to play. 

First, once you and your manager have reviewed your current year performance and start looking at the next year ahead, ask your manager this:

“What goals can we set in order for me to achieve an outstanding performance review in 12 months and the maximum salary increase?” 

Practice that sentence out loud in front of the mirror if it makes you nervous, because it shouldn’t. What you’re asking for is perfectly normal. How are you supposed to deliver exemplary performance if you don’t know what that performance looks like?

The goals you set together need to be documented or else you’ll never be able to prove 12 months down the line that you did everything that was asked of you.

Secondly, every goal you put on paper needs to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound). If your goals don’t match these criteria, you’re going to leave room for ambiguity and discussion as to whether or not you completely achieved the goal. Let me give you a quick example to illustrate:

POOR goal: help other teams work together more effectively with the marketing department.

SMART goal: help other teams work together with our department more effectively by organizing four company-wide one-hour workshops on successfully collaborating with the marketing team. 

The POOR goal leaves it unclear at what point you’ve done enough to complete it. The SMART goal leaves no room for discussion; either you achieved it or you didn’t.

#3 – Revisit your goals once a quarter

Goals are like Pokémon, you gotta catch ‘em all. 

The tactic here is to slowly but surely add a checkmark behind every goal that you had set up together with your manager. All you do is ask:

“Looking at the goals we set up earlier this year, how do you feel I’m doing at the moment? Can you tell me which of these you feel I still need to work on?”

Don’t wait for your midterm review to start asking this question, but ask regularly so you receive a more constant loop of feedback. Monthly one-on-one meetings are a great opportunity to do so, but at minimum make sure to check in once a quarter.

As a side-effect of reviewing your goals, your manager will slowly get into the mindset of acknowledging you are doing exactly what they confirmed would earn you the maximum salary increase at the end of the year.

#4 – Add value to core company goals

Every commercial business has one metric that all managers answer to: profit. 

Find creative ways to contribute to the bottom line of the company and you’ll find that you’ll be making it much easier for your manager to give you a raise. Remember that they are probably negotiating team salaries with the CFO, so it helps if people in leadership recognize that you understand what the business is ultimately about.

I hear you thinking: “but I’m not in a sales position Wytze!” Well, you don’t have to be.

In fact, the further removed your position is from sales, the more relevant this point becomes. You’ll probably need to step outside of your job description to make a meaningful contribution and that makes it easier to get positively noticed.

You could contribute to the bottom line in so many ways:

  • Introduce a new lead from your personal network to the sales team
  • Review the online tooling your team uses to save costs for the company
  • Join a sales team meeting to ask how you in your role could help them achieve better results and inform them of relevant information from your work domain 
  • Use your personal LinkedIn to share news about company products

If your company’s leadership team works with OKRs or a similar goal-setting framework to outline the company strategy for the year — take notice. They’ll probably list other core company goals besides revenue/profit that you can integrate into the personal goals you set with your manager.

#5 – Treat your manager as your friend

It can be tempting to try and play hardball with your manager about salary raises you feel you deserve, but I speak from experience when I tell you: be careful.

Your manager is the person defending your salary raise to the manager above her. She’s going to fight harder for you if you give her the impression you’re both on the same team trying to accomplish the same results.

Consider your manager an ally in helping you develop the best career possible under your current employer.

This article originally appeared in Wytze’s newsletter, The Hatchet.

Published February 17, 2021 — 09:35 UTC